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Bighead Carp

Bighead carp


Dusky green on the back and sides and pale beneath, relatively large head with oblique mouth with lower jaw protruding. Unlike the grass carp, the scales are relatively small with the eye located on the lower half of the head.


Bighead carp Distribution

Southeast Iowa rivers including the Chariton river below Rathbun and the Mississippi River to Davenport, probably in the Missouri River.


Zooplankton and phytoplankton.

State Record

93 lbs 8 oz.; 56 in. - Rathbun Reservoir, Appanoose County, June 2012 - Larry Sparks, Mystic, IA

Expert Tip



The bighead carp is a plankton eater (microscopic algae) native to Asia. They were introduced into the Mississippi River when private hatchery ponds were washed out in the state of Missouri. They quickly began spawning in the Mississippi and populations spread to other Iowa Rivers. These carp have also been found in the Chariton, Iowa, and Des Moines Rivers. In fact, bighead carp were quite numerous in the Chariton River below Rathbun Dam. Netting studies in the Mississippi River conducted by the Illinois DNR have found that bigheads school with paddlefish and may compete with the paddlefish for food. Since bighead eat microscopic food, it is feared they will also compete with young larval native fishes for food. They can get quite large, with individuals over 60 lbs. having been collected.


Present in these Iowa water bodies: